Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve heads a list of Tory MPs with sizeable shareholdings in companies accused of propping up Robert Mugabe's regime, The Independent on Sunday can reveal today.
Three of David Cameron's frontbenchers are among six Conservatives – and one Liberal Democrat – with investments together worth more than £1m in firms trading in Zimbabwe. The revelations will embarrass the Tory leader, who has sought to take the moral high ground over the crisis in Zimbabwe.
Mr Cameron has called on all companies and individuals with "any dealings" in Zimbabwe to examine their consciences and ensure that they are not keeping Mr Mugabe in power.
The companies include Anglo American, the mining giant rebuked last week for pushing ahead with a new £200m platinum mine in Zimbabwe, Rio Tinto, Standard Chartered, Barclays, Shell and BP.
The controversy will also hit Mr Cameron's attempts to consign sleaze to history.
In February, in echoes of Tony Blair's vow in 1997 to be "purer than pure", the Tory leader said: "Any arrangements we enter into are ones we are prepared to protect and defend in a court of public opinion." In June, he said: "Anyone who flies under the Conservative banner carries a wider responsibility to the reputation of the party."
But in recent months Mr Cameron has been hit by scandals involving MPs Derek Conway, Caroline Spelman, the party's chairman, and MEPs.
While the seven MPs at the centre of the Zimbabwe row have not broken any rules, critics have asked if it was morally right to own shares in firms giving a lifeline to Mr Mugabe. The MPs' investments have been described as "blood shares" which they should sell immediately in protest at the violence during the presidential elections.
When he was Prime Minister in the early 1970s, Edward Heath rounded on Lonrho over its investments in Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia, and labelled its chief, Tiny Rowland, the "unacceptable face of capitalism".
Mr Mugabe was expected to be sworn in today for a new term after a poll which was denounced as a sham, by, among others, the internal advisory group of Independent News and Media, publishers of The Independent on Sunday. Scores of opposition supporters were killed by forces loyal to Mr Mugabe since challengers put their names forward three months ago.
Mr Grieve insisted the shares had been declared in the "proper way". He added: "The Conservative Party has made it clear that companies operating in Zimbabwe must adhere to the highest ethical standards and I fully endorse that view."
Mr Grieve owns shares in Anglo American, Standard Chartered, Rio Tinto and Shell. Each investment is worth more than £60,000 – meaning his total shareholdings are more than £240,000.
One shadow minister, Robert Goodwill, admitted he was "not proud" to be a shareholder in Barclays, but said it was "not a very good time to sell shares". The suggestion that he was concerned about the stock market was described last night as "despicable".
Last Wednesday Mr Cameron told Gordon Brown at Prime Minister's Questions: "Businesses and individuals that have any dealings with Zimbabwe must examine their responsibilities and ensure they do not make investments that prop up the regime." William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, has urged companies investing in Zimbabwe to "examine their consciences very carefully".
Firms insist that their involvement keeps people in jobs and fights poverty. Yet experts say that a quarter of all hard currency traded in and out of Zimbabwe is creamed off by Mugabe.
Parliamentary rules state that shares worth more than an MP's salary of £61,820 must go on the register of interests. The latest register lists six Tory MPs and one Lib Dem MP with shareholdings in one or more companies that have interests in Zimbabwe.
Shadow Business minister Jonathan Djanogly owns shares in Barclays, BP, Shell, WPP and Tesco. He said: "Shareholders should be encouraged to make representations to the companies in which they invest. I have no comment on my own personal shareholdings."
Shadow Transport minister Mr Goodwill owns shares in Barclays. "I don't have any influence in the bank because the size of my shares," he said. "If I tried ringing the chairman of Barclays, he wouldn't talk to me. But anything we can do to bring pressure to bear on this dreadful regime and evil man needs to be done. I don't feel particularly proud to be a Barclays shareholder, but I think it is better to bring pressure to bear as a shareholder than selling the shares. And probably because it is not a very good time to sell the shares."
Anthony Steen, Tory MP for Totnes, said he had no idea that Unilever and Shell were doing business in Zimbabwe. "I would like to do everything I can to help get rid of this evil regime and I am going to discuss it with David Cameron as to how he sees that I might be able to assist."
Three MPs with shares in the firms could not be contacted for comment: Tim Boswell, MP for Daventry, owns shares in Barclays and Tesco; Sir John Stanley owns shares in Shell; Sir Robert Smith, Lib Dem MP for Aberdeenshire West & Kincardine, has shares in Rio Tinto and Shell.
Barclays has attracted the greatest controversy for its Zimbabwean operations. It owns two- thirds of Barclays Bank Zimbabwe, and has to buy £23m in government bonds under the terms of its licence. It also contributes to a government loan scheme that has lent money to at least five ministers for farm improvements. The British parent company took a £12m dividend in 2006, and the Zimbabwean subsidiary's profits rose by 135 per cent in 2007.
Barclays insists it "always seeks to conduct its business in an ethical and responsible manner" and complies with EU sanctions.
Standard Chartered Bank contributes money through the same compulsory bonds as Barclays. Earlier this month, the Foreign Office confirmed that it was investigating if the firm had breached EU sanctions. Unlike Barclays, Standard Chartered operates in Zimbabwe directly, rather than through a subsidiary. The bank said that thousands of people rely on it for wages, and it had an obligation to stay.
Anglo American, the biggest platinum miner in the world, plans to invest an additional £200m in its mine at Unki, the biggest overseas investment in the country to date. Anglo has defended pouring new money into the country as part of its responsibility to the local community. The opposition MDC said that the decision made Anglo "complicit in the regime".
Rio Tinto, a rival mining giant, has a diamond mine at Murowa.
A spokesman defended the company's continued activity there as part of "a duty to our workforce and the community", but said there would be no new investment until the political situation stabilises.
Between them, Shell and BP control 40 per cent of Zimbabwe's petrol market, distributing fuel to more than 200 sites around the country through BP/Shell Marketing Services Ltd. Neither is directly involved in retail, but BP has 70 employees there. A BP spokesman said it was important to maintain supply to its customers in Zimbabwe.
Unilever has run a soap factory in the country since 2001, when it moved there from Zambia. It makes a loss, and says it will examine its options in the region.
Tesco is one of several British supermarkets, including Morrisons and Waitrose, to source food from Zimbabwe, including sugar snap peas and green beans. Dr Vincent Magombe, director of the pressure group African Inform International, has accused the company of taking food "watered by the blood and tears of the Zimbabwean people". But a Tesco spokesperson said: "There s precious little employment of any sort in Zimbabwe and it would be irresponsible to deprive thousands of people of their only means of feeding their families."
The advertising giant WPP pledged to sell its share of a Zimbabwean affiliate, Imago, because the firm's managing director had been working on ads for the Mugabe campaign.
Labour MP John Mann said: "Politicians profiting from the blood of the Zimbabwean people need to consider their position. What this shows is that greed for money supersedes moral responsibility." Lib Dem MP Norman Lamb said: "It is a despicable attitude to put personal interests before the interests of the people of Zimbabwe."
Mr Cameron declined to comment on the IoS revelations.
Tory politicians touched by the 'whiff of sleaze'
The Tory party chairman is under investigation by Parliament's standards commissioner over payments from her parliamentary expenses to her nanny a decade ago. Mrs Spelman, who referred the case herself after it was revealed on 'Newsnight', denies wrongdoing. She claims Tina Haynes was employed from 1997 to 1999 to look after her children and do some secretarial work. Her other secretary, Sally Hammond, said she was "shocked" to discover how much Ms Haynes was paid.
Sir Nicholas and Ann Winterton
The husband and wife Tory MPs bought a Westminster flat as a second home in 2002, which they placed in a trust for their children. They claimed £165,828 in rent on expenses, though it was bought outright. The practice was then within the rules, but was banned in 2006. After investigation, standards commissioner John Lyon this month found the couple had committed an "unequivocal" breach of parliamentary rules, but did not order them to repay the money.
The MP was suspended from the Commons for 10 days in January for misusing public funds after putting his son Freddie on the payroll for apparently very little work. But when it emerged that the MP had also paid his elder son Henry as a researcher in his parliamentary office, Mr Cameron threw Mr Conway out of the Conservative Party. Mr Conway will stand down as MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup at the next election.
The Tory MEP was forced to quit as Conservative group leader earlier this month for ploughing £445,000 through a company where he was a paid director. At first he tried to apologise – "hands up, mea culpa" – but Mr Cameron told him to go, after the breach in European Parliament rules. The row also triggered the departure of Tory MEP, Den Dover, as chief whip in Brussels. Mr Dover denied breaking any rules in paying his wife and daughter a reported £750,000 for work over nine years, but the whiff of sleaze forced him out.
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